Don’t do it. That’s the simple advice for those interested in picking wild mushrooms for the table. People die. Others end up on dialysis. Others are just very, very sick for the rest of their lives. Some mushrooms must be cooked. Others are safe at one time in their life cycle and not others. There are those that react with alcohol to make you crook, and mushrooms that some people have a sensitivity to, while others can eat them with impunity.
Unless you know what you’re doing, DON’T PICK WILD MUSHROOMS.
So, for my birthday, we went foraging. Nick and I were parenting. And foraging, like fishing, is just a great excuse to get out amongst it. We found a dense forest of pine nearby, drove in through the open gate and spent a couple of hours scouring the forest floor for slippery jacks. Even found a few, but mostly the pine needles were littered with poisonous varieties. For a forage, it was unsuccessful. As a day in the woods, and as a picnic, it was magnificent. Some leftover sourdough baguette from the Peasant’s Feast I’d cooked the night before. Salami, ham, a couple of cheeses. Cherry tomatoes, apples, pickled onion relish. A dry spot on a creek bank with glimpses of glade in a couple of directions. Our boys ran amok up the creek, under the trees, the sound of their play filling the forest with joy.
So it was a bit of a bugger to find the gate we’d driven through locked when we returned. Not just locked; seriously locked, with a padlock the size of a lumberjack’s fist, a chain you could anchor the Titanic with, and steep banks that wouldn’t let you drive in or over. Whoever fixed this gate had obviously seen a few gates broken open in their life, and this wasn’t going to be one of them.
With two tired boys in the back seat, we looked for an escape route. We bounced up every other conceivable road in the forest. And a few that looked ill conceived. Logging roads, where big four-wheel drives and timber trucks had carved through deep mud in the hollows. More than once I thought we’d get stuck. And the locked gate, it must be said, was the only access, and exit point. No wonder it was firmly fixed.
What to do? A simple forest walk at lunchtime had turned into a late afternoon headache. How to explain, if we were discovered at the road’s edge by the owner of the lock, that we didn’t realise it was a private forest? That the gate we drove through seemed inconsequential when open, and insurmountable when closed?
So I rang my neighbour. A long time local who I hoped might know the area. In an instant he knew the property, and, by sheer luck, knew the name and number of the bloke who owned it. Perhaps he could persuade the owner our intentions were honourable. All we needed was understanding, and the key to the padlock, and all would be right. Except the bloke who owns the joint lives in Hobart. Thankfully, it turned out the key was more local than that. An old timer, George, had been using the forest that day, collecting a bit of firewood, and locked the gate on his exit.
When he showed up, George wasn’t a complete stranger to me. Cygnet’s a small town, and I’d already had dealings with the fella’s grandson. George had taught him to box. If we’d been loaded up with firewood instead of fungi, I doubt George would have let us out of the gate without a lesson or two ourselves. Instead, he seemed to find it a bit funny that two grown men had snuck into a private property to pick wild mushrooms, of all things, and ended up locked in. He smiled warmly as he let us out, and told us to throw the mushrooms away. “They’re poisonous, those things,” he muttered, as he reshackled the lock on our release. “I don’t know why you’d want to eat them.”
Unless we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t.